Ed note: This was originally posted on the USDA blog.
While fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a relatively limited problem, any amount of waste or abuse is too much. As I wrote back in December, we are taking more aggressive steps to root out fraud and abuse as part of this administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste and to continue improving our stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
This week we were pleased to announce that fiscal year 2012 first quarter results for USDA’s efforts to identify and eliminate fraudulent retailers from SNAP are available. From October 1 through December 31, 2011, USDA took final actions to sanction through fines or temporary disqualifications—more than 225 stores found violating program rules. We also permanently disqualified over 350 stores for trafficking (exchanging benefits for cash) SNAP benefits.
Again, cases of abuse in SNAP are pretty rare and the vast majority of SNAP participants and authorized retailers play by the rules using the program as intended. However, it’s important that we stay vigilant and raise awareness of these issues so people know how and where to report any incidences of abuse.
This week, we launched a Fighting SNAP Fraud website to raise awareness of integrity issues and provide a direct portal to report suspicious activities. To reduce the number of disqualified store owners who attempt to return to the program by falsifying information on their applications, we are:
- Increasing documentation required for high-risk stores applying to redeem SNAP benefits to better verify their identity and assure their business integrity.
- Researching high-risk store owners to confirm application information. High-risk stores are those located at the site of a previous disqualification. Store owners found to have falsified information with the intent to hide ownership or past violations will be charged, disqualified and may be liable for a $10,000 fine or imprisonment for as long as 5 years or both.
- Continuing to notify state and federal partners about violators to better protect our public programs. This includes information on program recipients with suspicious transactions at firms known to be trafficking for further investigation by States.
We will continue to do everything we can to root out fraud and abuse. There are over 46 million people who currently rely on SNAP to help put healthy food on the table. We owe it to the public to ensure the program is run with integrity.